The future is rural: the social objectives of the next CAP

Rural areas make up 44% to 80% of every EU country. These diverse territories play home to a wide variety of flora and fauna, wonderful wildlife and natural environments. They provide food and resources that contribute to jobs, growth and prosperity, and help to maintain cultural heritage. Rural areas are truly at the heart of Europe.

It is our collective responsibility to ensure the vitality of rural areas: strengthening rural value chains and local production networks; supporting young farmers and women in agriculture; preserving and protecting our natural resources; and boosting rural innovation and digitisation.

The future common agricultural policy (CAP) will play a fundamental role in addressing these issues by helping Member States prioritise and support vibrant rural life and the development of a modern, sustainable and inclusive agricultural sector.

Rural life and farmers – the heart of European society

The future CAP aims to develop, support and invest in our rural communities. It seeks to address societal demands while continuing to provide vital, quality public goods. Three of the nine future CAP objectives focus on:

  1. Promoting employment, growth, social inclusion and local development in rural areas, including bio-economy and sustainable forestry
  2. Attracting young farmers and facilitating business development in rural areas
  3. Improving the response of EU agriculture to societal demands on food and health, including safe, nutritious and sustainable food, as well as animal welfare

The future CAP and vibrant rural areas

Many rural areas in the EU suffer from structural problems, such as a lack of attractive employment opportunities, skill shortages, under-investment in connectivity and basic services, and significant youth drain. The future CAP will help Member States to address these challenges and develop their non-urban environments.

New way of working

Not all rural areas are the same. Consider Sweden, Spain and Lithuania. Consider the difference in their landscapes and climatic environments. Consider the uniqueness of their local cultures and traditions. They won’t all have the same territorial needs.

The future CAP aims to strengthen the socio-economic fabric of rural areas by providing Member States the flexibility and support to adapt and tailor interventions to local needs and conditions through a modernised, simplified and less prescriptive way of working with fewer rules. This will help remove excess administrative burden and stress, create tailored actions that are based on performance, encourage greater collaboration with the Member States and communities, and restore the socio-economic-and-environmental vitality of rural areas.

Financial Support

At least 5% of a Member State’s total European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) contribution will be reserved for community-led local developments under the LEADER programme.

Another 30% will go to measures (aka interventions) that address specific environmental and climate-related objectives (e.g. areas of natural constraints, organic farming, agro-forestry, bio-economy, renewable energy).

Member States will be able to transfer 15% of their Direct Payment budget into their EAFRD budget – even more for those who take additional measures to help protect the environment, natural resources and biodiversity, meet climate change targets and support young farmers!

Risk Management and Farm Advisory Service

Farming and food production can be risky business. Natural forces (drought, flooding, pests and diseases), market fluctuations, and start-up/production costs are all serious threats to livelihoods and income. Through the EARFD budget and the Farm Advisory Service, the future CAP will help advise and support farmers in managing risks and challenging times by providing appropriate risk management tools, insurance premia and mutual funds (for production and income losses), helping farmers restructure and adapt their farming practices, as well as providing training and a platform for knowledge exchange.

Innovation and the exchange of knowledge are cross cutting objectives of the future CAP, supporting agricultural, forestry and rural business development. Therefore, it is important Member States, through their CAP Strategic Plan to prioritise and strengthen the farm advisory service for farmers and support interactive and collaborative innovation between the advisory services, research and rural networks.

Smart Villages, Innovation & Research

The CAP is one of a number of EU policies supporting the ‘Smart Villages’ initiative. Joint EU and national investment in infrastructure, broadband connectivity, the natural environment, and human capital, is paramount to creating vibrant rural areas that offer a high quality of life for rural communities and that support sustainable, quality employment and social inclusion.

For the next CAP, €10 billion from the Horizon Europe programmewill be set aside for research and innovation in food, agriculture, rural development and the bio-economy. The agricultural European Innovation Partnership will continue to support locally-led projects and the funding of new businesses and services, based on digital technologies as well as increased connectivity, to foster competitive and sustainable farming and forestry and to enhance life in rural areas.

Young Farmers and Rural Business Development

The European agricultural sector is characterised by an ageing farming population. In 2010, only 7.5% of farmers were 35 years or younger.  53 % were over 55 while 30 % were over 65 years of age. Our agricultural community needs an injection of new blood; however, young farmers, older farmers and new entrants face significant obstacles and risks.

The future CAP recognises the importance of attracting young men and women into the sector and facilitating business development in rural areas. Through the new way of working, Member States will clearly outline their approach and their set of interventions to support generational renewal in their CAP Strategic Plan. Some of the ways in which the Member States can provide specific help and support to young farmers and rural business development include:

  • Ring-fencing at least 2% of their annual direct payment budget for financial instruments for young farmers and new entrants. The future CAP will also support Member States in aiding the installation of young farmers and rural business start-ups, with a maximum threshold support of €100,000 (up from €70,000 of the current CAP). 
  • In addition, Member States can establish a Complementary Income Support (CIS) for Young Farmers to provide additional income support after initial setup. The CIS will be paid annually as a decoupled payment per eligible hectare.
  • Member States will have the flexibility to use part of their budget from the EAFRD to support and finance transnational learning programmes (e.g. Erasmus programmes), with a focus on young farmers.

Societal Concerns and Sustainable Agricultural Production

In recent years, societal expectations of food safety and quality, and environmental and animal welfare standards have grown considerably. The most important role of the CAP is to help farmers anticipate developments and adjust production based on market signals and consumer demands. In the post-2020 CAP, EU countries will be able to design their CAP Strategic Plans to set tougher food safety and quality requirements (e.g. reducing the use of pesticides or antibiotics) for farmers who, in turn, receive financial support when they comply with these requirements.

Locally produced, Healthy Food

More and more, people want food that offer broader benefits for society: organic produce; products with geographical indications (GIs); local specialities and innovative food. Through Rural Development and international promotion activities, the future CAP will continue to support and promote these products and their valued characteristics, while at the same time helping farmers adjust their production in line with market signals and consumers’ demands. It will make these products more attractive to farmers and consumers by modernising and simplifying the registration and approval process and strengthening protection against counterfeiting. This will reduce administrative burden, boost product commercial value and simplify marketing and promotion processes, thereby making it easier and clearer for both producers and consumers.

Animal and Plant Health

The future CAP helps harmonise EU regulations and standards for addressing animal health and welfare, and pesticide use. It implements monitoring measures to identify and address misuse. To tackle the issue of Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR), Member States can design their CAP Strategic Plans to help farmers improve their practical application of the EU rules on animal welfare or further increase animal standards through voluntary initiatives.

At a National level, the Farm Advisory Service (FAS) plays a vital role in critical health issues and concerns. Raising awareness and educating farmers, developing farm health plans or integrated pest management plans, and making use of new technologies are all key measures necessary to reduce public health risks.

Agriculture and Food Waste

Eighty-eight million tonnes of food is wasted in the EU annually. This costs us €143 billion every year. The bio-economy uses renewable biological resources from land and sea to not only produce food but also materials and energy. By incorporating bio-economy principles into agricultural communities and businesses, this food waste can turn into an economic activity. This initiative can have significant economic, environmental and social benefits, and help Member States meet their climate change objectives.

The future CAP aims to strengthen the sustainability of the food chain by helping Member States reduce food waste and food losses. Research, new technologies, innovation, and facility upgrading are supported by the future CAP, all of which are vital for working towards creating a low-carbon agricultural sector that is sustainable and resource efficient.


Our rural environment is invaluable and our farmers the gatekeepers of our food production systems. Together, they generate significant added-value for society: local economic development and social inclusion; eco-tourism; a healthy and well-nourished population (both human and animal); cultural traditions; a reduction in food waste through the circular and bio-economy activities; and endless health benefits from recreational time in natural areas.

What does it mean to develop vibrant rural areas?

Through the support and flexibility of the proposed future Common Agricultural Policy, we can preserve traditions while facilitating business development. We can make rural areas more attractive to new talent while supporting farmers young and old. And we can deliver upon citizens’ expectations, ensuring the highest standards of safety, quality and welfare.

Source: EC